It is believed that history of Ashgabat started in 1881, when a Russian fortress was erected on a hill on the outskirts of the Turkmen town of the same name. Almost 140 years ago, it became the starting point for the development of the modern city. Residential settlements began to come online around the fortress, and soon a bazaar arose spontaneously, the busiest place of the new Ashgabat, where merchants from neighboring countries, mostly from Persia, brought their goods.
In those years, mostly Molokans – Russian immigrants from Russia who rejected the institutionalized formalism of Orthodoxy – were responsible for the trade carriage. They had settled at the foothills and at the Kopetdag Mountain, and provided the transport services of the rapidly growing city, so the first bazaar very soon became known as the “Russian Bazaar”. It has remained as it in urban slang, while the last forty years the bazaar is officially called the Gulistan Shopping Center.
The “Russian Bazaar”, the largest and oldest covered markets in the Turkmenistan, was built in the late 70’s of the last century by the design of the Ashgabat architect Vladimir Vysotin at a historic site, and it immediately received high professional assessment and became internationally renowned. For the design and construction of this unique shopping complex, the team of authors was awarded the Prize of the Council of Ministers of the USSR – at those times, one of the highest awards in the architecture.
What makes the Gulistan Shopping Center unique? An impressive architectural design has no analogue in the Central Asian region neither before nor nowadays.
Having visited the Italian city of Turin at his young age, Vladimir Vysotin has been impressed a lot by the building of the Palazzo del Lavoro (Palace of Labour) built in the futuristic modernism style. He was inspired by a number of metal consoles coming out from a number of columns, and used this technique in his project to build the Ashgabat market. Vysotin did not make a copy, but used a creative approach to the project of the Italian engineer Pier Luigi Nervi, and was able to give the features of national symbolism to the metal construction.
If you toss head and have a look to the pattern of stiffeners that support the roof, you can see that sixteen cantilevered crossbars coming from each column are reinforced with transverse bracings that form an eight-pointed star along the outer contour. Almost 10-meter long cantilevered set-off of monolithic reinforced concrete actually hangs in the air, resting on a powerful column.
Total ten of such giant umbrellas, when combined, form a common roof over the trading complex, protecting from the sun and rainfall. Such a bold constructive solution was skillfully calculated by the project’s chief engineer Aleksey Belov. Its advantages become even more significant if consider that the structure was erected in the high seismic zone.
Inside the covered market square, there is a giant concrete sculpture representing the ferula, which the Turkmens call the “bowl of gazelles”. The author of the magnificent abstract composition is the famous Turkmen sculptor Klych Yarmamedov, co-author of other renowned Vysotin’s buildings erected in Ashgabat. It is not just a plastic art form, emphasizing the geometric clarity of the ceiling of the market, but a structure for practical reasons – it is used to hide the air duct.
The rectangular area of the shopping complex is U-shaped and houses unloading and storage areas, shops and a parking zone, and a cascade of pools with fountains is in front of the main entrance. The range of goods is enormous, including watermelons, melons, national cuisine and much more.
Over the years, the “Russian Bazaar” was reconstructed several times, though it generally remained its historical appearance. Despite the emergence of new stores and malls in Ashgabat, the Gulistan Shopping Center continues to be popular among locals and guests of the capital and its unique design continues to delight and attract foreign tourists who visit Ashgabat.